new : tunes

Red Rocks Worship | The Rooftop EP

Placing roots just outside the mile high city, Red Rocks Worship is a collective of musicians who are on the worship team for Red Rocks Church in Littleton, Colorado. One of my roommates found a link a mutual friend of ours shared of the group’s latest EP recorded in a single session from a rooftop in downtown Denver. He started playing the last song, All I Want, and all of us were hooked. The finger plucked chord progression that transitions into stellar vocal performances, a surprisingly thick bass line, and well balanced percussion drew me into this record, because it brings worship into an inviting, intimate atmosphere. At this point in my life I can enjoy a big crowd with bombastic instrumentation in a packed sanctuary, but I’ve found that sense of the organic in times of worship with a few friends with nothing more than an acoustic guitar become some of the most memorable moments. The project starts out with Fill This Place, which begins dimly with bells, piano, and a guitar that sounds like it was recorded on a rainy day with Joshua Radin or The Weepies, but strong bass drums, and a robust set of musicians built this up into a release in electric guitars and powerful vocals. One Great Passion is the stylistic middle ground between the two, keeping a mid paced tempo and putting a foot in both poles on this album – ranging from the soft and acoustic to the big and booming. In the times I’ve reviewed worship music on this blog, I’ve always had to tag on a disclaimer that discusses my sentiments about worship music being corporatized and 12321567_1567863050129930_7679414217313514340_n ergo reduced to radio “hits” that carry little artistic merit. I still hold those assumptions to a certain degree, but the truth is that there is some well crafted worship music that’s been resuscitated by groups like Hillsong and Bethel. You just have to go looking for it. Other groups like The Dust of Men, Rivers and Robots, and Gungor have made prolific worship albums that are honest and heart filled. This is another one of those records that I can honestly say is convincing. Now that I’m in a spot where I’ve experienced some legitimately powerful times of worship, this kind of music is really starting to grow on me. Lyrically, this EP treads waters that are pretty familiar to most worship albums, musing through the sovereignty of God in difficult times and praise, but the highlight for me is a line in All I Want – “steal away my selfish gain, bringing Glory to Your name.” Being someone who wrestles with pride as part of my process of recovery, this line resonated well, especially when it’s back dropped against well-written music. The production quality reminds me of how well Bethel’s last album, We Will Not Be Shaken (everyone and their mother who likes worship music must listen to that album…. Even if you’re not into it that much, it will rock you), was done for it being a live record. After gaining insight from a good friend of mine about the engineering process behind live albums like such that involves additional synths to thicken the ambiance, the finished product can only be as good as the heart and soul of the original takes. My point is that this was recorded on a rooftop in a downtown district, which means the acoustics are not going to provide the same control as a studio environment, but they’re still stellar! Overall, this is a really diverse EP that has tunes good for a range of moods, environments, and moments of worship. I would definitely give this one a listen and an add to any worship playlist!

Oh, and honorable mention goes to a live version of Pursue (<—- LINK!) that’s mashed up with All I Need Is You from Hillsong Young & Free. I can only find it on Youtube and I have to give a shout out to my roommates for playing this!

 

Explosions In the Sky | Disintegration Anxiety

Aside from a few soundtracks written for a couple of Sundance films and Lone Survivor, I have been enduring radio silence from my favorite band for five years since they released, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. After dwindling patience, quintessential instrumental rock outfit from Austin, Texas, Explosions In the Sky,12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_n.jpg have released a new single from their forthcoming record in April, The Wilderness. I’ve heard it said that post rock is limping from a lack of ingenuity since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s – basically that the genre is running dry on fresh ideas that are now being lathered, rinsed, and repeated nearly two decades since its prime. While, bands like Mogwai, If These Trees Could Talk, Godspeed You Black Emperor are maybe falling back on certain formulas that gained them notoriety, other groups like The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die (say that one five times fast) and Foxing are soldering post rock with emo and even punk to inject it with a shot of adrenaline. Now, Explosions, one of the premiere groups in this genre is turning it upside down… with electronica? I was honestly expecting the familiarity of shimmering guitar tones back dropped against field snare percussion, and bombastic crecendos, but instead Disintegration Anxiety begins with thick electronic sampling that combusts into a chaotic flurry of guitars and bass that remind me a lot of Kasabian and even some of the new Switchfoot. Dare I say it’s a bit of a head banger and I actually like this direction that the band is taking with this song that seems to go against the grain of the monotony of originality. It’s stylistically shedding skin without sacrificing any of the ambiance and build up that these guys are Jedi Masters at. I look forward to the rest of their album in April! Listen to it. It’s good. Like… really good.

 

Fit For an Autopsy | Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell

Hailing from the Jersey Shore and signed to eOne Music’s menacing roster, Fit For an Autopsy sank their teeth into deathcore when it first became a divisive sensation amongst metal fans in the mid 2000’s. Regardless of the particular subgenre’s fidelity, Fit For an Autopsy established themselves as heavy hitters to be reckoned with on the back of their slamming debut – The Process of Human Extermination (talk about family friendly title). While I was never into this band even during my most scathing phases of musical interest, they managed to weave their way through the underpinnings of some of my favorite heavier metal acts, like Whitechapel. Many of the bands I used to really be into all cite Fit For an Autopsy as a common denominator influence, so in a sense, I have to tip my hat to these Jersey boys for having a musical hand in a core section of my catalog during high school. What tipped me off to their new album, Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell is lead guitarist, Will Putney. Armed to the teeth with prolific production ability 12063694_1010270315670338_8148475741185813042_nand a crafty ear for catchy hooks with a lot of grit, Putney has been the man at the helm for some of my favorite bands, including Counterparts and Hundredth. In fact, I got the chance to talk to one of my favorite bands For Today‘s lead guitarist, Ryan Leitru, last October at their show in Minneapolis about what it was like for them to have Will Putney produce their new record. Leitru had nothing but good things to say, so it peaked my curiosity to see how he handled it with his own band. All of that talent dimly shines through an otherwise dark and visceral record. Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell undoubtedly lives up to the second half of its title with a calculated, down tuned storm of guitars, pummeling percussion, and a powerful vocal delivery from Joe Badolato. With plenty of breakdowns to go around for 40 minutes, this band has not completely shed the skin of their deathcore roots, but they make up for that with shrewd creativity and melodic tendencies on songs like Ghosts In the River, Out to Sea, and Swing the Axe. Other tracks like Wither and False Positive put the record in fourth gear and crank the intensity to warp ten with black metal influenced savagery. Lyrically, this dives face first into recycled, nihilistic themes of hatred and corruption, so I don’t connect with anything. For what it’s worth, this record tickles nostalgic tendencies from late high school and junior college when I was able to stomach bigger doses of it. Though I don’t find anything to resonate or leave a long lasting impression, it’s a brutal listen, written well, and has some earworm guitar licks. Check it out if you want to mosh with your friends in a living room (Trust me, it’s fun).

 

Sons of the East | Already Gone EP

Back with a set of new songs packed for a journey through a half hour of nimble acoustic/folk, Aussie trio Sons of the East have been slowly leaving musical footprints around the other corner of the world with old school folk flourishes and even a touch of their roots with indigenous instrumentation that will make you stomp your foot to the kick drum beat of songs like, Miramere. Acoustic/folk reminds me of hip-hop. A lot of contemporary artists within the genre can trace their sounds and influences to a handful of game changers who wrote catalytic and memorable music that still leaves their fingerprints in the thank you sections of records. Acoustic/folk is very similar. It lives in a house that Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash built with mainstream success and 1374964_940893175995257_729486520242907147_n.jpg was given a renovation/facelift with modern artists like John Mayer and James Morrison. Though Sons of the East doesn’t join such prolific mainstream ranks of anyone previously mentioned, they for sure have the former to thank for paving the way for their style. Sons of the East definitely tip their hats and guitar picks to the legends that proceed them with the trademark elongated enunciated vocals of Bob Dylan from Nic Johnson and garnish their rootsy sound with the likes of Fleetwood Mac. Already Gone takes a lot of what really made me like them on their previous release and then reaches out in some different directions that still make for a cohesive listen. Songs like Into the Sun showcase the use of electric guitars and let Jack Rollins have a crack at the drivers seat leading vocals, which is a really nice change in pace. The title track is an upbeat ballad that begins with the tenor of Gregory Alan Isakov and includes some old key organ parts in the bridge that throws the song back to the 1960’s. The project continues in lineage of songs from their previous EP on tracks like Head For Home and Jacaranda Tree, both of which are packed with rich sounding tones and beautiful complimentary pianos. The Farmer speeds up the pace by the end of the album with a lively toe tapper reminiscent of anything from Mumford & Sons first two albums. This EP is a lot better produced and has more scope to it. It sounds fuller and the best part is that it doesn’t take away from the sense of the organic. Overall, I really enjoy this EP and the experimentation taken from the last release. I would highly recommend this album for anyone who wants some good acoustic tunes for coffee shops, windows down in the summer, or… yeah. Pretty much anything.

 

 

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We Will Not Be Shaken – Bethel Music: Music Review

Bio:

Riding a newer contemporary wave of worship music and based out of Bethel Church in Redding, California, Bethel Music is a singer songwriter collective that began in the church’s worship ministry. It has since expanded into other artists who are based out of other churches and write individually. Since 2011, the artists in this collective have collaborated to put out a couple of studio albums and extensive live plays. More recently, a worship session overlooking a gorgeous scenic view of Lake Shasta inspired their new live album, We Will Not Be Shaken.

Background:

Most people who know me well understand that this is a genre of music that has never appealed to me. I don’t say that to depreciate the passion behind the musicians or their faith. One of my buddies here in Winona posted a quote on their Tumblr page that struck me when thinking about this… “Bad Christian art that reflects a lack of investment of time, commitment, craft, or skill, presents the illusion that the Christian life is not worthy or requiring of the same.” – Karen Swallow Prior

thechristianmanifesto.com
Bethel Music playing over Lake Shasta in 2014 Photo credit: thechristianmanifesto.com

Poignantly stated by Prior – a professor of English at Liberty University, this is what makes most “Christian” music unappealing to me. God gave us all unique gifts and aptitudes that we should exercise as a form of worship in accordance to Romans 12:7-17. It is something to be celebrated about our individuality in the likeness and image of God. I feel like when someone is given the gift of music, they should look for ways to further their craft. It would be the same way a teacher would want to strive for excellence in their respective field and not settle for mediocre. Unfortunately, I think this kind of music has become so industrialized and homogenized for the masses, the craft doesn’t really even matter. It’s marketable to an audience who will buy the music because of its label, regardless. For the purposes of this review, I will step off the soap box, because I want to give you some insight to an album that packages worship in an honest way. When I transferred to Winona and got involved in ministry, I saw the raging popularity with groups like Hillsong United, Rend Collective, and David Crowder Band. I immediately drew back thinking that these groups had absolutely nothing more to offer that I haven’t heard from countless other Christian artists. I began to warm up to them when I had such constant exposure and saw the passion it invoked through so many people. I still have my reservations, but after a year and a half of being down here, these groups began to rub off on me slowly. Rend Collective’s Campfire is now one of my favorite worship records to date. It’s spontaneous, organic, and wistfully created. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an upcoming live album from Bethel Music when a couple friends of mine screened it. Curiosity took over and now here I am writing about it.

Track Reviews:

Who Can Compare to You is the first song I listened to on this album. It showcases the voice of Matt Stinton who has an unbelievably dynamic vocal range. Starting off the song as a bass, he progresses to a nimble soprano by the end of the track. Packed with atmospheric string sections, delicate interludes, and sample pad percussion, this song actually feels authentic.

hellels.com
We Will Not Be Shaken album cover Photo credit: hellels.com

In Over My Head is probably the highlight of this album for me. Jenn Johnson’s Regina Spektor like whisper in her vocal style gives this song personality and adds to its ethereal depth. The way this song builds to this ultimate climax and unleashes a symphonic hurricane is not only epic, it’s moving. Home follows much of the same musical formula as many of the other tracks on this record, but Hunter Thompson’s higher vocal range and the way this song catchy chorus and pace makes it accessible. The title track begins this record softly with a memorable piano line over the acoustic guitar with Brian Johnson’s gravely voice. As I said above, the song structure follows a similar blueprint, but an ear worm chorus and well layered instrumentation makes this song a good preview for the rest of the album.

Instrumentation/ Songwriting:

While I may seem critical of modern contemporary worship, there is something to be said for the attention to emotions that it tries to focus on. Many times, the parts in these songs that hit their peaks is when they feel the most genuine and natural build up that is accented well with some out-of-this-world singing. On the topic of singing… there is not one artist in this collective that doesn’t have a standout set of pipes. I think all of them are a couple notches above others in the genre and they are able to transition well throughout the song’s they’re featured on. For example, Jenn Johnson has the ability to seamlessly adapt from a soft whisper to a boom. They all do. In addition, I actually like the feel of this record. For a live album, this actually has a lot of qualities of something that is unplugged – I think that’s why it feels very easy to listen to. Recently, lead singer of progressive metal band, Fallujah, Alex Hoffman said that the ultimate goal of their new record was to make people feel. The band wanted to write songs and develop a sound that manipulated emotions and took you on a journey throughout the record. That’s how We Will Not Be Shaken comes across. You really get the feels when you listen to this record in a way that most post rock outfits like Explosions In the Sky are Jedi Masters at.

Lyrics:

I have always found satisfaction in artists who put craftsmanship into lyricism that is profound and meaningful. I would say that this is a number one mission for groups in this genre, because the message is central to the craft… sometimes too central. Many times I feel like Christian music pours so much into the lyrical content that the craft itself qualitatively diminishes. In my experiences where that is the case, the lyrics may be heartfelt and potent when pen hits paper, but on record it feels forced. With that said, I believe that these artists truly pour themselves into what they write, lyrically. When listening to We Will Not Be Shaken, I hear a lot of the same themes you would expect to hear on a Hillsong or Rend Collective album, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sub par. The greatest thing about the lyrics on this record is that they are back dropped against some pretty stellar instrumentation. It automatically makes them sound much more convincing.

Promo for We Will Not Be Shaken photo credit: lourderthanmusic.com
Promo for We Will Not Be Shaken photo credit: lourderthanmusic.com

Production:

This will look a little different, because We Will Not Be Shaken is not something done in house. This is a live record. It’s an outdoor stage on the face of a bluff where the sound travels exponentially more than a recording studio. Treading the same lines of instrumental post rock, the production in this album focuses more on the ambiance and gentleness of the instrumentation. What it leaves is more room for this is vocals, which are the dominant element in the mix. When you hear those acoustic lines that are more stripped down, it’s emblazoned by this atmospheric aura that makes the sound more relaxed and easy on the ears. I really dig it. The way that many parts in the songs transition from these simple lines and climb into these bombastic climaxes is effective.

Conclusion:

Guys, I’m stumped. I found a worship album that is beautifully crafted, live, has a ton of replay value, and continues to grow on me. I don’t have that much to complain about with this record, but I’m still slowly transitioning into this new style of worship – I’m more stuck on my go to hymns that I grew up with. For what it is, this is pretty top notch. I’m excited to see where this group goes, where they’re called, and how each of these artists expand – in faith and music.

Score: 90/100